Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer's advice to health care workers to protect themselves against COVID-19
Transcript of the press conference from the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Allison McMillan, addressing the need for health care workers to protect themselves and the community from COVID-19.
Press Conference, Department of Health
3.15pm, 19 April 2020
Good afternoon. My name is Allison McMillan, I'm the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. And over a number of weeks now you've seen a range of my colleagues providing updates at this time of the day on, on where we are in Australia in relation to this pandemic. Today it's my turn.
So, first of all, let me again congratulate all Australians on the terrific job everyone's doing in containing this pandemic. Everyone's playing their part and whilst we're seeing now this is flattening of the curve that we've talked about, I'm here to remind everyone of the importance that we continue that over the coming weeks.
As of right now we know that there are a total of 6606 confirmed cases in Australia, and sadly with that 70 deaths. And I acknowledge that, that every death is a very sad for the family friends of those out there who have experienced this situation and our hearts go out toward them. Also, we can tell you today that now more than 420,000 tests have been done in Australia and as you heard from the Prime Minister this morning- sorry the Health Minister - this morning we are leading the way in testing, and that we should be very proud of all of the work that's going out today in promoting and encouraging that testing.
Today also we've heard around the increase in the supply and delivery of personal protective equipment into Australia that goes to protect and support our frontline health care workers as they go about their daily business. This is a critical part of that safeguard we have in our hospitals, in our aged care facilities - out there in primary health care, and GP practices and in pharmacies. And that, that supply will go out and be distributed in coming days and will give us that additional confidence and comfort as we move forward in the coming weeks around this pandemic and where it's going.
In those satisfying and very encouraging numbers we're seeing around the slowing of the spread or the flattening of the curve as we've heard, there are however a number of outbreaks that you will have heard of - particularly some focusing on north western Tasmania and in residential aged care in New South Wales.
One of the aspects of that that has come to the attention of course is the association of these outbreaks with health care workers. Health care workers are in our front line and we, we value all of our health care workers rightly. And some questions are asked in recent times around the actions of health care worker.
And so I'm here, as one of those health care workers, to remind all of my colleagues of the importance of following those principles that we've outlined to the community and we've assigned to us. If you are unwell, please do not go to work. It may be as minor as a scratchy throat - please don't go to work. Seek guidance and help through the telephone lines, through your GP, or through your employer about what you should do.
And again, to health care workers I remind you that you need to be vigilant, like everybody else does, to the requirements of social distancing because that's how we're going to protect those most vulnerable in our community from this pandemic as we go forward. So that's the sort of message we're trying to encourage to our health care workers and to our colleagues out in community.
I'm happy to take questions if there are questions.
Miss McMillan, could you just give us a bit of a progress report on the north west Tasmania outbreak? And how soon till- it's [indistinct] that the hospital might be able to open? And also what's the capacity of these AUSMAT swab teams? Say there were several different kinds of north west Tasmanian outbreaks – could they control a number of similar outbreaks?
So, the approach we've taken in north western Tasmania is to deploy an Australian Medical Assistance Team. That's a team of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, pathologists - a whole range of people who have been- have gone there to provide the service that can no longer be done because all of the health care workers, or a majority of them in that area, have had to be isolated because of that outbreak.
So AUSMAT is a national deployable capability. It's led from the Northern Territory on behalf of the country and it's being used on a number of occasions in recent times to support Australians. AUSMAT has been around for quite a number of years but it has only been since the bushfires of this year that we've actually seen it deployed in Australia. So AUSMAT can do almost anything it's asked. AUSMAT is, as I say, a collection of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, logistics systems - whatever we need. We can respond to the requirements of the community.
We saw AUSMAT at Howard Springs, we saw them supporting the people on the Artania in Western Australia, we saw them on the flights as they returned from Wuhan. So we should be very pleased that in Australia we have such a flexible and dependable response system across this country. There are more than 800 people registered as a part of AUSMAT on the database that we keep updated and they are all trained, and a large number of them are ready right now if we need to call on them to support Australia in whatever way it might be needed.
Miss McMillan, on the Tasmanian outbreak again - there were three nursing homes that were visited by a sick health care worker. About 500 tests done, and the result was that only one person has tested positive. How confident can we be that that is the only case given the incubation period? Will those people potentially need re-testing at a later date? And also on that, with regards to the health worker who didn't initially know that they had to explain they'd been to those nursing homes - is there any value in health care workers potentially keeping their own notes of where they're going - just in case they do come up with this situation and they're then asked to retrace their steps?
I'll start with the the last question first which is, health care workers do have a responsibility to tell their employers where they're working. So if you're a casual worker or someone who works as part of a bank or an agency, you do have a responsibility to tell your employer you're doing that. Honesty and transparency is critical to protecting those most vulnerable.
In relation to the testing, obviously the surveillance of that outbreak will go on through that public health unit and we will watch and monitor that community for any other outbreaks. But there is a plan in place to contain that outbreak, but that is part of the normal day to day business of containment and monitoring of an outbreak such as this.
On the Australian figures nationally, do you have the information to hand as to how many people are in ICU or on ventilators of the people that have tested positive?
So the figures of this morning, there were 51 people in the intensive care and 33 on ventilation across the country.
Can we also get an update on how soon IVF treatments could begin again? And also have a comment for those women who are hoping that this will restart soon? And what it means to people who are worried about the amount of time they have to get these treatments?
So, so IVF is very much front of mind for us at the moment. We are working through a plan for the return of further elective surgery in the coming weeks. The National Cabinet has asked the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee to provide them with that advice on Tuesday and it is likely to be that we will see a staged increase in elective surgery now that we have the confidence that we have that supply, that critical supply of PPE behind us to support that. And certainly we're well aware of the, the importance of IVF to the community, and particularly those working to continue with their, with their program. So we will hope to be able to provide advice on that in the near future.
So can I just clarify that in terms of the priority list, the list of elective surgery - is IVF near the top? And what other elective surgeries might be first to be able to be conducted again?
I'm going to wait until we get the advice from the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee, of which I'm a member, because I think it's the collective view, the advice to National Cabinet, that's how our decision making has been working. But certainly we are well aware of the importance of IVF as a part of that strategy.
And just following up on the PPE aspect of things. We know there's many more masks now in circulation, but what other PPE is still potentially in a state of shortage?
We still are really being very cautious with the use of all aspects of our PPE. So in a COVID-19 response - as you will have seen visually - there's goggles, gowns, gloves and masks. So all of those are important parts of our stockpile, and they're also things that we continue to pursue. But we know that masks were very ,very much a critical supply point that we needed to, to secure and we've been able to do that as a country through some great work by the purchasers.
Miss McMillan, has China been transparent enough when it comes to its coronavirus numbers? And this- does there need to be an independent report or review by the foreign minister?
I think we heard the Foreign Minister this morning certainly make- express her view around the fact that we need to, to explore and understand this outbreak, and how it came about, and how this spread at home - so, I certainly heard the foreign minister say that this morning. I'll leave it to her to comment on the- China's transparency because that's her position rather than mine. But I do think that we're hearing the keenness to certainly understand so that we can learn from this. And if it should, unfortunately, ever happen again we'll be even more prepared than we were this time.
With the cluster outbreaks that we have seen in Australia so far, where they've hit aged care homes there's been rapid spreading of the virus. Does that mean that as we look to easing some of the restrictions that things like visits to aged care homes are probably a fair way off, given how rapidly it is spreading among older Australians?
Yes. As we move forward certainly our considerations in the next four weeks will be about where we can reintroduce things into the community that will have a very low impact on transmission. And part of our tactics will be that we've got very close monitoring and if any outbreaks occur we can, we can tackle them quickly and address them quickly. So yes definitely in considering where we might make changes - protecting the vulnerable is certainly a major priority for us.
And whilst we understand that the limitation of visitors into aged care is very difficult for some, particularly where there are elderly loved ones, it is important in protecting them from this virus and we will need to see that continue.
Is there a risk of impatience in the community as we continue to see a flattening of the curve? The health minister was saying we've had a week with downward trends - people, potentially getting impatient for a return to normal life.
I think that we would- it would be very unusual if we didn't see some impatience and that's why we are imploring the community to please stay on track. This is our time now to sustain this. We know that we will continue to see outbreaks as we have, it gives us the capacity to get to those quickly, to deal with them quickly, but not see it overwhelm the system.
So again, on behalf of all health care workers, and of course of all Australians, we are asking you to, to stay on track. It's a long road here and we've all heard those words on a number of occasions and that's what we're asking everyone to do - is stay on track, stay home and stay safe.
What's your response to MP's like Barnaby Joyce who is saying he will not download the community- the a forthcoming contact tracing app because they're scared of their, of their privacy being kind of sent to the federal government?
So the, the mobile app that's being talked about is, is purely voluntary - you've heard that very clearly, that is something you could choose to download the app and use it, and so that's, there is free- freedom of choice. And if ministers or MP's choose not to do that, that's absolutely their right.
But what it will do is help us with another tool to tackle this this outbreak and this pandemic - and particularly in being able to manage quickly any small outbreaks we might see. So it's to the advantage of us all - if either I were infected I could quickly let other people know who had been in my proximity, or I would get to know if somebody else was infected and I had been close to them. So it's a- it's a two way street here, and it's to all of our advantage in the long run- but it is voluntary.
And just given the role that health professionals are playing here, and there have been some issues with people recalling everything that they've been involved in. Is there any case for perhaps health professionals needing to download this app as opposed to being voluntary? That health professionals might have more of a pressure on them to be able to monitor their movements?
Yeah we're- I'm pretty confident that we can say we're not going to put pressure on anyone to do this - it will be voluntary. There is a, a duty of care for all health professionals that we do everything we can to protect those that we care for and this is certainly one of those tools. But again, I certainly would not see any way that we would compel them to do that. But we would strongly encourage health professionals as a part of that community to do this if they choose to do so.
Thank you very much.
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